An agreement was reached late Friday night concerning this year's New York State Budget. The Budget is balanced and holds spending growth to 2% or less. It also includes $4.2 billion for the Middle Class Tax Cut, which will offer millions of New Yorkers, savings of about $250 on average. The budget addresses several of my top priorities, which will positively affect the quality of life for residents in Rockland and Westchester counties.
SAVING HOMEOWNERS MONEY IN WAKE OF FEDERAL TAX OVERHAUL Westchester and Rockland Counties lead the state and even the nation in property taxes. To help offset the impact of the new federal tax code, the budget provides for two charitable contribution funds for health care and education, which New Yorkers’ can donate to, and then deduct from their federal and state tax returns. Any taxpayer donating may also claim a State tax credit equal to 85% of the donation amount for the tax year, after the donation is made.
LOWERING LOCAL PROPERTY TAXES To lower our local property taxes in Rockland and Westchester Counties, the budget includes $225 million to fund the Grow County-Wide Shared Services Initiative. For another three years it continues county-wide shared services panels and overcomes a hurdle that prevented localities from sharing certain services. The budget will continue the Local Property Tax Relief Credit, offering about 2.6 million homeowners savings of an average of $380 on their local property taxes.
LEADING THE WAY TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE We have listened and heard our young people in Rockland and Westchester Counties call for stronger gun laws. Now domestic abusers will not be able to possess guns in our state. This law closes a loophole, in which domestic abusers only had to surrender handguns, but now they must surrender all firearms. The law also blocks a person with an arrest warrant from getting or renewing a firearm license. According to Every Town for Gun Safety, women are 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the U.S. then in any other country, and 54% of gunmen in mass shootings killed their partner or a family member. In 9 of the last 10 mass shootings, the gunman had an existing record of committing or threatening violence against women or harassing them. New York now builds on the SAFE Act to have the strongest gun laws in the country.
INVESTING IN PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION The budget will provide a $1 billion increase in education funding, and $15 million for pre-kindergarten expansion. The East Ramapo Central School District, which has long been plagued by unique problems will receive $3 million to help restore full day kindergarten, music and art education and other school enhancing programs. The school district will also receive an additional nearly $1 million in school funding, and other school districts seeing increases in funding this year. State monitors will remain in place in the East Ramapo Central School District to oversee the district’s finances to ensure our children are put first. My legislation which secured aid for full day kindergarten in schools across the state passed in the Senate and Assembly this year. Now the budget, funding the measure and making full day kindergarten a reality for every child. The budget also puts in place $15 million for prekindergarten to expand high-quality half-day and full-day prekindergarten instruction for about 3,000 children.
HARDLINE STANCE ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT The #MeToo movement has shined a light on sexual harassment in the workplace and raised awareness to a widespread and dangerous issue. The budget will put in place a comprehensive program to put New York ahead of the nation in helping prevent sexual harassment. It will apply to both government and private sector workplaces in our state. First, it prohibits taxpayer money from going towards sexual harassment settlements involving state officials. It will also end mandatory arbitration for cases of alleged sexual harassment and it will end secret settlements.
MAKING COLLEGE MORE AFFORDABLE $7.6 billion will be invested in higher education, and $1.2 billion will go towards programs to make college more affordable. Many students in Westchester and Rockland Counties are looking to take advantage of the Excelsior Scholarship. The budget includes $118 million to support the second phase of the scholarship. In addition, more than $200 million will go to SUNY and CUNY to support the operations of the university systems, while maintaining their cost of tuition. There is also support for students attending private colleges in our area. $22.9 million will go towards the second phase of the Enhanced Tuition Award program. It provides up to $6,000 in financial assistance, including match funds and a tuition freeze to make college more affordable.
FIGHTING OPIOID ADDICTION Rockland and Westchester Counties have not been immune to the opioid epidemic. In 2017, both counties saw death tolls more than triple since 2008. As a member of the states’ Heroin Task Force, I pushed to get Naloxone in pharmacies and make it over the counter, which is now state law. More must be done, and this budget will allow New York to lead the nation in holding opioid drug companies and manufactures responsible. They will be forced to pay a combined $100 million annually to help cover the costs of state-funded drug and alcohol treatment programs.
IMPROVING TRANSPORTATION & REPAIRING LOCAL ROADWAYS Residents in Westchester and Rockland Counties need easy and accessible commuting solutions with many of our residents working in the city. The budget appropriates $8 million to allow the Lower Hudson Transit Link to begin bus service along the Tappan Zee/Mario Cuomo Bridge. Many Rockland commuters depend on this bus service to get them to the Tarrytown Metro North Station and into Manhattan. The budget also looks to improve New York City subway service by investing, $836 million into the MTA for critically needed repairs and service improvements. From Ossining to Clarkstown to Ramapo, residents need to have safe roadways. After several storms, some maybe in need of repaving or pothole repair. This year's budget puts $65 million towards extreme winter recovery for our roadways. In addition, the Consolidated Local Streets and Highway Program (CHIPS) will offer more than $500 million for local roads.